South Island Tour

For 16 days over Christmas and New Year four
of us have been touring the South Island – any bits we haven’t seen aren’t
worth seeing. We’ve seen 123,567 sheep, 5,431 cows, two glaciers, three sounds,
58 mountains, 3300 kilometres of road, 38 waterfalls and more lupins than you
can shake a stick at (NB: many of these statistics have been invented, but you
get the general picture). The weather has varied from sunshine and blue skies
to torrential rain, with periods of everything else in between.

The fourth member of our party, Anne, arrived
in Wellington on the Wednesday before we left. She just had time to get to
grips with the capital before we set off on Saturday 20th December,
landing in Nelson in pouring rain. We picked up the hire car and started driving.
The vineyards of Marlborough revived us a bit, as did the fact that the weather
improved. We detoured back to Picton to do the Queen Charlotte Drive, for views
of the Marlborough Sounds. The next day we travelled down the east coast and
inland to Hanmer Springs, where we tried out the hot pools.

Our next stop was at Christchurch; it was
beautiful in Cathedral Square in the sunshine. We went punting on the Avon
(which flows much faster than the Cam), explored the Botanic Gardens and took
the gondola up to get views over the Banks Peninsula. From there, with an
overnight stop at Methven, we went inland again to Lake Tekapo, on the edge of
the Southern Alps. The lake itself was beautiful in the sun with loads of
flowers (especially lupins) around the shore and the mountains in the distance.
The highlight there was a flight in a light plane over the mountains and the
glaciers, including Mount Cook which we flew right alongside.

On Christmas Day we drove from Lake Tekapo to
Dunedin, stopping to visit the Clay Cliffs (impressive sculpted pinnacles) and
the Moeraki Boulders (giant marbles on the beach). We stayed at a hotel in
Dunedin which provided us with a pleasant Christmas dinner in the evening. On
Boxing Day there was no rest, with a visit to the albatross colony on the end
of the Otago Peninsula and a trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway in the afternoon.
From Dunedin we drove down and along the south coast to Invercargill. On the
way we visited the cliffs at Nugget Point and got good views of baby seals frolicking
in a kind of seal kindergarten way below. From Invercargill we drove to Te
Anau, on the edge of Fiordland, where we spent a whole three nights.

The first day we did an organised tour to
Doubtful Sound, with a combination of transport: coach to Manapouri, boat
across Lake Manapouri, another coach over the Wilmot Pass, and finally a second
boat to cruise Doubtful Sound. This is a long and impressive fiord, and was
quite interesting, but the highlight was the appearance of a pod of dolphins
playing round the boat. On the way back we stopped at the Manapouri Power
Station, buried deep in the earth at the end of a 2 kilometre spiral tunnel,
which gets power by letting water flow through tunnels from the lake to the
sound. The vast turbine hall looks like a scene from a James Bond movie. The
next day we drove ourselves over the hills to Milford Sound and just took a
boat trip. This was also scenic, but no dolphins this time.

Our next stop was at Queenstown on New Year’s
Eve. It poured with rain, so we went in the Kiwi and Birdlife Park and actually
saw some kiwis (the birds not the people) – success at last, after eight months
in NZ. In the evening we had a really nice meal in a hotel, and watched
fireworks over the lake with a glass of bubbly at midnight. Later we wandered
into the town and watched the youngsters partying, in various degrees of
sobriety. Luckily it had stopped raining, though those who were in the lake
were still pretty damp. On the way out of Queenstown on New Year’s Day we
watched bungy jumpers flinging themselves into oblivion in a steady stream from
the bridge just outside town.

We crossed the Haast Pass to the west coast
and ended up at Franz Joseph Glacier, where it was raining again. We went in
the spa and sauna complex at our motel, built next to the river which seemed in
danger of overflowing its banks. Fortunately it didn’t, and next day was
brighter. Maggi and Anne opted to do the climb up the glacier, but we didn’t
like the look of it and went for a couple of interesting walks, with views of
Fox Glacier as well as Franz Joseph.

We completed our circuit by driving up the
(fairly deserted) west coast, stopping at Greymouth, and then visited Pancake
Rocks (fascinating stratified and eroded rock formations pounded by the Tasman
Sea) and Nelson Lakes before returning to Nelson and flying back to Wellington.
We came back with loads of pictures, some memories, and lots of dirty washing!

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